Munster v Connacht
Today: Thomond Park, 5.15pm
TV: Sky Sports 1
Betting: Munster 1/7, Connacht 4/1, Draw 25/1
The importance of Munster coming back to Thomond Park (5.15pm) for this evening’s Guinness Pro 12 clash with Connacht cannot be underestimated, according to head coach Anthony Foley.
Foley believes a big crowd will provide Munster with the perfect backdrop to reinvigorate his charges following a loss to Ospreys last time out.
“It’s about now making sure we get back and rid ourselves of that performance in the Li berty, get back to what we were doing beforehand and it will be great for us to go back and play in Thomond.
“We haven’t played there in a while. I think the Sale game was the last game and I think it’s important for players to get back there. Obviously the whole country is on a high around what happened at the weekend (Ireland) but we need to worry about ourselves and get our own performance up.”
Foley has again named Denis Hurley as skipper of a strong side that shows five changes from the team that lost in Wales. Two of those changes come in the front row with John Ryan and Stephen Archer in from the start and Tommy O’Donnell at flanker.
In the backs, Simon Zebo, one of the heroes of the RBS Six Nations run, is named on the wing and Andrew Smith in the centre after returning from injury.
Pat Lam has made four changes in personnel from the team that played and lost in controversial circumstances to Cardiff Blues, with three of those changes in the backs.
Darragh Leader comes onto the right wing while his fellow Galway man Tiernan O’Halloran shifts to full-back. Scrum half Kieran Marmion returns for a new half back pairing with Jack Carty while Craig Ronaldson moves to outside centre.
Up front, Academy forward Eoghan Masterson is named at openside flanker for his fifth game this season, joining skipper John Muldoon and number eight George Naoupu in the back row.
Although fully aware Munster will be ready and waiting for his side after securing a win in Galway 12 weeks ago, Lam is hopeful his side can cause another upset.
“We are fully aware that Munster at Thomond Park is a big challenge but we also have the self-belief if we focus on our game plan and work as a team, we can perform there.
“It’s no secret we’ve been hit with injuries, especially in certain positions, but what it has highlighted is the importance of team work within the squad. Younger guys like Eoghan (Masterson) can step up with ease to pick up the role and do their part for the team with confidence.”
“Interpro games like this are always big occasions but, for us, there are four points up for grabs and rather than get too caught up in the emotion of a derby game, we want to channel everything into a performance. ”
For Munster, nothing less than a win will do and the message from coach Foley has been taken on board by the players. After losing to the Ospreys, their place in the top four of this league is in jeopardy and in the general scheme of things a home defeat is way less acceptable than losing on the road.
Skipper Hurley summed it up: “There are only five league games to go. Both us and Connacht are fighting for spots in the top six and then top four. We want to make sure we make the top six first.
It is important we are winning games to put us in contention for semi-final spots. We have to focus from game to game, it is so tightly packed between the top six or seven teams that every point really does count towards the end of the season.
F Jones; K Earls, A Smith, D Hurley (captain), S Zebo; I Keatley, D Williams; J Ryan, E Guinazu, S Archer; D O’Callaghan, B Holland; D O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
D Casey, D Kilcoyne, BJ Botha, P Butler, J O’Donoghue, N Cronin, JJ Hanrahan, R O’Mahony.
T O’Halloran, D Leader, D Poolman, C Ronaldson, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, M Kearney, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (captain), E Masterson, G Naoupu.
S Delahunt, R Loughney, F Bealham, Q Roux, E McKeon, J Cooney, S O’Leary, C Finn.
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